Can Consumer Choice Reduce Obesity?

In a refreshing alternative to tired debates about choice and freedom versus regulation, Harvard Law Professor Cass Sunstein asserts that consumer choice can be a powerful tool against obesity, instead of a problem. Sunstein upends arguments that consumer choice is driving obesity, describing how the problem is not the choices consumers make. Instead, the problem is the skewed choices we are offered.

Sunstein is no friend of heavy-handed regulation. As the Obama administration’s ultimate reviewer for all new government regulations, he irritated both business interests and strict regulation advocates alike. During his tenure, he approved fewer regulations than the Bush administration, but also approved more that were economically significant. Sunstein left his post in the Obama administration last fall and returned to Harvard Law School.

In his well-known book  Nudge: Improving Decisions about Health, Wealth, and Happiness, he advocates for maintaining freedom of choice while also applying behavioral economics to present people with better options. A recent commentary he authored for expands on his ideas with application to obesity. He says:

Evidence is increasing that lower-calorie servings can be good for business. One reason is consumer demand. Many customers like, and reward, restaurants that provide light options; an easy way to provide such options is to cut portion sizes.

Sunstein cites Google’s experience in its New York employee cafeteria as a case in point. Responding to employee complaints and unwanted weight gain, Google redesigned the cafeteria to nudge employees toward healthier choices and portions. The result was popular with employees and it yielded reductions in calories consumed.

Click here to read more at and here to read about the experience at Google.

Choosing, image by George Frederic Watts / Wikipedia

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